As writers and authors, learning new skills, keeping ahead of genre evolution, trope changes and writing methods is vital for our continued improvement as a wordsmith. With the industry changing so quickly, we need to be ahead of the game.
The best ways to do this are:
Join a writing group
Read articles on the book industry
Take courses and workshops
Attend writing conferences
Subscribe to industry newsletters
How do you keep current with the writing industry?
This past weekend, I virtually attended When Words Collide and attended as many sessions as I could, while also being a co-presenter and panelist. Although, there was information I already knew, there were also those little nuggets of wisdom, insights and knowledge that made each session a gem. My notes were prolific and my follow up to action each gem will take several weeks.
There is always something to learn, whether you are just starting out on your writing career or have years of experience. We can have tunnel vision and ease into a ‘comfort zone’ so easily, when there are so many other calls on our time.
Some things can be scheduled monthly, such as updating your website or blog with current information. We don’t want a visitor to read upcoming events from 2018! Modify your bio to include your latest book, current WIP progression and appearances etc. Don’t leave your blog stagnant – post content regularly. (This can be once weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even quarterly – just a known routine, so followers will know when to expect you to post).
We all have several social media accounts, so make sure they reflect the latest news, images etc. so they are in line with your current activities. This makes your author platform current. Also check links to ensure they are working properly or direct to a new site, if a change occurred. Refresh content and images so your platform doesn’t look dated or tired. Renew your copyright dates for all content across platforms on 1st January each year – this is one that can be missed very easily.
Can you share tips on what you do to stay updated and improve your writing skills?
Have you always been fascinated with the dark side of reality?
Yes, I think I have been. I remember sneaking into the living room and watching part of the movie Poltergeist when I was too young to be watching it. Luckily it was edited for TV, but still I think that was the beginning of it for me. My friends and I from my neighborhood also used to do our fair share of frolicking in the local cemetery. It was the in between spot for most of our houses and it ended up being the social epicenter for our preteen and teen years.
Are any of your narratives based on a true-life experience?
There is a little bit of truth in all of my characters and some of their experiences. There is part of me inside all of them, but the circumstances they find themselves in are entirely fictional,
Why the Gothic Horror genre specifically? What draws you to it?
I love the idea that the past is never truly dead. That the past is always alive in the present. That is the true core of gothic fiction. For me I like to play with how the past can still be the driving force of a character. Often times I use memory, or grief, PTSD etc. to be the things that are “haunting” the present. Other times I use actual ghosts. Personally I find memory and grief to be even more frightening than a ghost at times.
Do you have a favorite character and why?
I think I would have to say Adam from Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent. He was my first main character, and he just found his way deep into my heart. He was hard to let go of.
Is there a place that inspired Dagger Island?
It is roughly based in some ways on a combination of Star Island (in the Isles of Shoales) and Peaks Island off the coast of Portland Maine. Neither of these real-life islands are a gruesome and haunted as Dagger Island is, but there are little bits that work perfect for me for Dagger Island.
You have many forms of artistic expression. How do you choose, when inspiration hits?
I think all od them satisfy certain aspects of my personality. To me visual art (painting and photography) are the ones with the least pressure on them, so I can still have the most fun with those without consequences. Writing speaks to my soul the most, so that one always feels like there is a lot riding on it. It also feels the most personal when someone doesn’t like it. Dance has been my primary job for so long with teaching and performing that it also seems easy to me.
Is dance an external expression for your internal art?
It can be, depending on the dance and the partner. My husband and I used to perform a lot. We would do hour long dance pieces that were entirely improvisational and would be performed to dark ambient and nontraditional music. I really felt that those were the closest to come to a physical interpretation of the books I now write. Part horror, part beauty, always mysterious.
Can you tell us a little about your Vox Vomitus Podcast? Why you created and what is its mission?
I fell in love with podcasting during the early part of the pandemic, not only being a guest but also, I was able to guest host a couple shows and I really loved being able to talk with authors. Vox Vomitus (which is fake Latin for word vomit) was born out of the idea that sometimes we can learn from our mistakes and learn from other’s mistakes. As authors we all have trials and tribulations. On Vox Vomitus myself and Allison Martine speak with the best authors working today and we can have a cocktail with them and talk about not just what went right, but also what went horribly wrong along the way. I have made some tremendous friendships through the podcast as well. So, our mission is to entertain, educate.
What prompted the idea for Pretty/Ugly?
Way before Covid I thought about writing a book about a pandemic. A virus that if it didn’t kill you would leave you horribly scarred. I wondered about our society and the people who seem to be “all surface” with nothing underneath. So, I wanted to play with that idea, of what you can be if everything you are is taken away. It became about much more than that. Though the idea came about before Covid, I think writing part of this during the pandemic really helped to shape the gravity and the enormous sense of loss that I needed in order for the stakes to be as high as they had to be.
Did the story stay true to its original form or change as you wrote?
Oh I think I answered that a little before. It changed A LOT as I wrote it. My original intention was to write a dark Rom Com that happened during the apocalypse. I ended up writing a very lyrical meditation on grief and trauma, and self reflection. I wrote about trying to forgive yourself and trying to allow yourself to love and be loved…all the while people are dying, and the world is ending.
As writers we are constantly second guessing our writing. Is it descriptive enough without too much exposition? Is that character’s personality clear? Does my action scene work? Are my character’s developing? There are many and varied queries as we write. To enable us to grow as writers, we need constructive critique from people we trust.
Here is a list of who you should ask:
Experienced editors and writers.
2. A writer in your niche.
3. Someone who has read your work before.
4. Your writing group.
When asking for feedback be specific in what you are asking, rather than say “let me know what you think.”
Here are a couple of examples of questions to ask:
Do you get a clear idea of the genre?
Can you relate to the characters?
Do you understand their motivations?
Does it have a good beginning/ending?
With specific scenes name it and then ask a question in relation to it.
Does the story flow?
Were the characters reactions to situations believable?
Was the story predicable?
What surprised you?
Which part was your favorite?
Remember feedback should be taken as constructive critique. You may not agree on their viewpoint, but use it to see your work in a different light/perspective. It is your work and you tell it the way you want.
Today I am sharing the first paragraph of a ‘on the back burner’ work in progress. It is the result of a National Novel Writing Month challenge, a couple of years ago. I am unsure if it will ever become a fully fledged novel, time will tell. I would welcome any feedback on this excerpt.
Do you ‘see’ Jess?
Do you get an idea of her background, her personality?
What genre do you think it is?
Would you read more?
Coming to University – Part One
Jess sat hugging the hot coffee mug in her hands, she may have looked relaxed and happy, but inside she was in turmoil. Her eyes scanned the many pedestrians walking back and forth on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop. Willing him – the one -to appear out of the crowd. Tall, blonde and athletic her first real crush, well as she called it – a grown up infatuation – not like the silly childish crushes, when she was at school back home. Here at university it was so different. She had independence from a worrywart doormat of a mother, who pushed her towards any ‘suitable’ young boy. “Make the right choice now, Jessie, and you will be happy. Don’t make my mistake and go for the ‘cool guy’. Her mother always whispered this advice least her distant and unemotional father heard. Jess tried to elicit more information from her mother on the subject, but it was always brushed aside.
The thought of the three of them eating in silence every evening meal at the dining table made her cringe. Jess once ventured to ask to eat in her room, mainly to escape the uncomfortable atmosphere; it was met with a horrified look on her mother’s face and a rage exploding from her father, which so terrified Jess she vomited there and then. This, of course, made the matter a hundred times worse. Her father stormed out of the room; slamming his study door so hard it propelled two pictures off the hallway wall. Her mother visibly shaking went into clean up mode immediately, running to the kitchen and filling a bowl of hot water and grabbing several rags to ‘save’ the carpet. Jess stood frozen in place, the vomit drying on her dress and chin as tears ran unbidden down her cheeks. It wasn’t until her mother pushed at her leg to reach a splash of vomit that either realized the other’s presence. “Get in the bath, Jessie and put that dress in the sink.” Having an instruction gave her body permission to move. She climbed the stairs, stripped and sat in the bath as it filled with water. Deep inside a switch turned, she needed to escape this house and find real love, someplace where people loved each other and were happy. At the time, at the tender age of eleven, she could only dream and secretly plan, but as the weeks and months passed, her escape route gradually formed. Her art teacher told her she had a real gift and after several conversations between them, they managed to find a grant-funded course for Jess in a university several hundred miles away. For Jess the distance was heaven sent almost as much as her teacher’s ability to get the grant on her behalf. With no costs to pay, her parents could not refuse Jess attending.
She announced her entrance into the university over another silent dinner table the day of graduation. Her mother looked at her wide-eyed, but Jess could see relief there too. Her father paused putting a mouthful of food in his mouth, looked directly at Jess and said, “Make the most of the opportunity.” He then continued eating, no good luck, and no congratulations – nothing. Later, her mother came into her bedroom and hugged her. “You will find someone wonderful Jessie, I am so happy for you.” Even then, her mother did not divulge any information on love and life or relationships, leaving Jess with a hope nurtured in her chest that she would indeed find love, a true love. Someone who made her happy, talked to her, listened to her, and gave her a wonderful life.
Thank you for participating.Your comments will be helpful.
As writers and authors, we all daydream of the day our novel is made into a movie. The thrill of seeing our story come to life on the big screen (or even a smaller one!) is something we all crave at one point or another. When we are writing our stories, we get images of our characters in our heads, sometimes it is actors we already know or we create an inspiration board from photos found on the internet.
Forgetting for the moment the practicalities of actually getting the actor you want – who are your chosen ones? Who is on your wish list?
I am sharing a couple here and would be interested to know if you ‘saw’ them the same way I do, when you read the books.